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Behling: Put downtown to citywide vote
Idea is to get clear agreement at ballot box to end donnybrook
Council hopeful Richard Behling believes the best way to approach downtown is to let voters decide what they want to see happen in a citywide balloting. - photo by HIME ROMERO


Manteca City Council candidate Richard Behling can be contacted at or you can access a blog with his positions on various subjects at

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues

Any solution for downtown is useless unless there is consensus.

Manteca City Council candidate Richard Behling - reflecting on a donnybrook over what to do with downtown that stretches back at least 30 years - believes the sensible thing to do is put the matter to a vote of those impacted the most.

And since any investment in public infrastructure and traffic patterns impacts all of Manteca and not just downtown property owners or merchants he favors an  advisory measure on a future municipal ballot that gives all registered voters in the city a say in the matter. And once the majority decides, the City Council can then move forward to putting ordinances and policies in place that are designed to eventually make whatever the community decides happen ultimately.

“It won’t happen overnight because it will take money,” Behling said. “But the city can refer back to the direction they received from voters to move forward.”

Behling believes there are two - or possibly three - proposals for downtown that could be placed on the ballot for course of actions people can chose between.

The first is a solution that emphasizes through-traffic movement specifically on Main Street. If residents value ease of movement through the downtown area as most important such a proposal would indicate that Main Street should be either four or six lanes. Behling notes in order for such a plan to be effective may involve taking out structures on one side of the street so the corridor can be as wide as it is south and north of downtown.

The second option would be to close downtown streets or severely restrict lanes to create more of a pedestrian mall. That probably would entail moving toward a Manteca version of the Santa Row development in San Jose that Behling noted mayoral hopeful Debby Moorhead favors. That includes developing a plan that encourages residential uses along with other uses that would encourage people to gather downtown. Such a plan ultimately may require parking garages.

The third would be simply to allow voters the chance to say don’t do anything and leave downtown as it is.

“Whatever the outcome is and regardless of how many people may actually vote, the city should go with what the majority wants as that is what democracy is about,” Behling said.

Behling emphasized whatever route is taken based on the citywide vote, the council needs to refrain from “being in the business of businesses.”

Not only does that mean an end to any carrots such as what was used to lure Bass Pro Shops and Costco to town but it also may mean the end of municipal efforts to partner with property owners especially in the downtown district to help with the costs for improvement of storefront facades.

Instead, city money should be directed at streets, water and sewer lines, and other infrastructure investments that are clearly public in nature.

Once those are in place, Behling’s theory is private sector investment will follow. He also understands that it won’t happen overnight but the current stalemate won’t change unless a definite direction is taken and policies are put in place to make it happen.

The donnybrook has stopped a number of efforts to shape downtown’s development over the years. In such cases when business and property owners went to the city wanting help with parking such as behind stores on the south side of the 100 block of West Yosemite the city would come up with a proposal and funding and then be told to mind its  own business. In that case some of the original people who wanted city help and then rejected it are again pressing for a city solution to parking.

Even in cases where something has been done after some type of agreement was reached - such as the downtown streetscape improvements that include the late 19th-century-style light standards, follow through projects have gone to the wayside due to opposition. As a result, plans to expand the streetscape to other downtown streets such as Center Street have essentially been abandoned.

Behling believes the referendum could be used to provide municipal backbone by providing proof that is what the majority of people in Manteca who voted want to see for their downtown.